Re: Emergency

Even after listening to the reading of “Emergency,” by Denis Johnson a couple times, I’m not sure what I think of it.

So this guy walks into a hospital with a knife in his eye. Everyone’s so nonchalant about it, including the victim, it’s all pretty funny. In fact, the narrator pops so many unidentified pills, that the horror of a hospital filled with doped-up orderlies and incompetent doctors becomes hilarity.  The dark humor and absurdity of it all reminds me of  “Bringing out The Dead“.

For a bit of respite, the narrator and his friend go out (or maybe he’s remembering a past trip) to the county fair. And they get lost. They wander around like ignorant children as night falls and snow follows. Through the filter of hallucination, we receive brilliant descriptions of moments of beauty and terror. In a more primitive world, they could die. Well, they could die, but they have a truck to shelter in, and a city to return to, and ironic quips to deliver.

Somewhere in the second half, I lose my sympathy for them. It’s strange that I could laugh with them when they could do harm to others. But as they venture into a realm where they’re likely to hurt themselves, they just seem foolish. I guess I was expecting at least one of them  to realize he needed to get his act together, but they just become ever more unable to acknowledge whatever it is they can’t face.

This story is memorable, but I’m not sure if I can say I like it.

A mordant portrayal of a hopeless situation.

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